Saturday, August 06, 2005

An ecoLuddite journalist and a techno-progressive activist finally reconcile...

I wanted to share part of a recent and interesting email exchange with Steve Proulx, a Montreal-based reporter with whom I had a feud ever since an unfair and inaccurate article he wrote about me a while back:

Justice: By the way, I've been meaning to ask you the following question for a long time. Every environmentalist documentaries I've seen and conferences I've been to end with solar and wind technologies being promoted as one of many solutions to the ecological crisis. Since you've told me that you don't believe that technology can be part of any solution to any of the many problems we have, whatever they may be, do you agree or disagree?

Steve: I think it's a stretch to say that I do not believe technology can be part of any solution to any of the problems we have, whatever they may be... There is a difference between adopting wind-powered electricity generators and developping technologies that would eliminate handicapped people or make us live 20 years longer! Let's just say that the side-effects are pretty different. Adopting wind-powered electricity generators does not come with as many unknowns when we compare them to those of genetic modifications! That being said, I still think the root problem is that we consume too much electricity for our real needs.

In short, it's a big debate but I think in general that adopting the precautionary principle is the key. I know that this is your opinion as well. The level of happiness in Western countries hasn't increased in the last 30 years and this despite the emergence of an incalculable number of technologies that were supposed to improve our lives. So why be optimistic about emerging technologies when those we have developped during the last decades have, for the most part, contributed to more ill than good? Am I happier today now that I have a cell phone? Are we more fulfilled human beings thanks to the Internet?

I wouldn't fight at all cost for the adoption of emerging technologies that could take us to other worlds or enhance us. I honestly do not consider that to be an urgency. It's pretty personal but I think spending time discovering the type of human being I am, improving my relationships with others and living a fulfilling life in which I accomplish myself, that's already a huge undertaking!

I do not reject all technologies in their totality without thinking, I question, I doubt, that's all. Like you, Justice, I wouldn't have taken the red pill without thinking.

The following was my reply:

> I think it's a stretch to say that I do not believe technology can be part of any solution to any of the problems we have, whatever they may be...

OK but that was something you told me word for word in a previous email exchange...

> There is a difference between adopting wind-powered electricity generators and developping technologies that would eliminate handicapped people or make us live 20 years longer! Let's just say that the side-effects are pretty different. Adopting wind-powered electricity generators does not come with as many unknows when we compare them to those of genetic modifications!

I agree but I think one should not be blinded by the possibility of negative side-effects to the point of banning genetic engineering and denying ourselves the substantial benefits that it could bring. "The lenght of time we have to wait to be certain of the safety of genetic modifications will rapidly decrease with the mapping of computer models of the human genome and the proteins and the tissue engineering it codes for ... With the exponential progress in bioinformatics, a virtual model of a genetic expression in the human body is not too far away."

However, you are intentionally confusing the issue because the question was: Can emerging technologies be part of a solution to the ecological crisis? I say yes and I am not alone:
"In its 2003 review of nanotech and AI titled 'Future Technologies, Today's Choices: Nanotechnology, Artificial Intelligence and Robotics' Greenpeace says there is no need for bans on nanotech, or even new regulatory structures, and that "new technologies...are also an integral part of our solutions to environmental problems, including renewable energy technologies such as solar, wind and wave power, and waste treatment technologies such as mechanical-biological treatment."

> That being said, I still think the root problem is that we consume too much electricity for our real needs.

Real needs? Is that a plea for volontary simplicity? As James Hughes argues in his writings, the problem for leftists is that such a lifestyle is not appealing for the vast majority of people in the world who live in involontary simplicity. Most people do not want to live in a future without telecommunications, flushing toilets, electrical appliances, planes and medecine. Most people don't have these things and suspect that their lives would be much better if they had them. Between the choice of living the simple life of a happy Hobbit in the Shire or living the technosexual lifestyle of the elite in the movie The Island, most of the world criticize the excess of the Microsofted West while trying to find a way to live exactly like that.

> In short, it's a big debate but I think in general that adopting the precautionary principle is the key. I know that this is your opinion as well.

Yes and no. I am for precaution if it means, for example, rigourous rules to ensure the safety and quality of the products of scientific research but I am against the principle of precaution as promoted by ecoluddites. Here's why:

"The precautionary principle is impractical, since every implementation of a technology carries some risk of negative consequences. Proponents counter that the principle is not an absolute rule, it is a conceptual tool to clarify arguments. Someone in a debate regarding a proposal can say, I oppose this proposal on the grounds of the precautionary principle, without necessarily invoking the precautionary principle for other proposals. However, such selectivity in its use is in itself criticised, because it leaves open the possibility that it will only be used in the context of technologies that advocates of the principle typically oppose - such as nuclear fission or genetically modified organisms.

Another standard criticism can be made that the precautionary principle is only applied to new technologies, not the existing technologies that the new technology might supersede.

The precautionary principle, as stated, does not take into accounts the potential positive benefits of a technology, which may be substantial. Thus, it assumes a zero lost opportunity cost, or that there is no cost associated with doing nothing. Studies to prove safety can cost a lot of money, and if it is assumed (or can be shown) that even the most overwhelming proof of safety would be fruitless since it could be dismissed by a sufficient number of determined objectors, these studies would be viewed as a waste of money and not performed - even if the studies really would have shown that the proposal was unsafe. This leads to a further criticism: using the precautionary principle, as opposed to risk assessment or similar approaches, actually impairs safety in practice, even if one ignores any opportunity costs."

> The level of happiness in Western countries hasn't increased in the last 30 years and this despite the emergence of an incalculable number of technologies that were supposed to improve our lives. So why be optimistic about emerging technologies when those we have developped during the last decades have, for the most part, contributed to more ill than good? Am I happier today now that I have a cell phone? Are we more fulfilled human beings thanks to the Internet?

I strongly recommend you read Technology and Happiness by James Suroweiki.

Personally, I think the level of happiness has not increased in the last 30 years because those years were a period of «dereligionization». Despite all the harm irrational religions caused, these same religions made people happy and fulfilled or, at the very least, convinced them they were happy and fulfilled by giving their lives meaning. Like Einstien, I think the key to increase the Gross National Happiness index is the state promotion of secular humanism AND the community-based promotion of forms of rational spirituality like Buddhism:

"If there is any religion that would cope with modern scientific needs it would be Buddhism." Albert Einstein

"Buddhism has the characteristics of what would be expected in a cosmic religion for the future: it transcends a personal God, avoids dogmas and theology; it covers both the natural & spiritual, and it is based on a religious sense aspiring from the experience of all things, natural and spiritual, as a meaningful unity." Albert Einstein

That being said, as the Transhumanist Declaration clearly states: "In planning for the future, it is mandatory to take into account the prospect of dramatic progress in technological capabilities. It would be tragic if the potential benefits failed to materialize because of technophobia and unnecessary prohibitions. On the other hand, it would also be tragic if intelligent life went extinct because of some disaster or war involving advanced technologies." Rather than making pleas for voluntary simplicity that most people will ignore, "we need to create forums where people can rationally debate what needs to be done, and a social order where responsible decisions can be implemented."

> I wouldn't fight at all cost for the adoption of emerging technologies that could take us to other worlds or enhance us. I honestly do not consider that to be an urgency.

At all cost??? Who ever said that? I surely didn't!

Listen, here is the best case that can be made to make one understand the urgency of the situtation:

"The two organized groups that are already active around the issue of new technologies and human enhancement are, on one side, biotech corporations and, on the other, «bioconservatives» (right-wing and left-wing intellectuals and activists who want us to resist progress in the name of «divine law» or «natural law» or old «humanist ethics»).

The tragic consequence of this situation is if those two polarized interest groups and points of view remain the only option for our politicians, they will make desicions that are to the detriment of the rights and well-being of citizens.

It is therefore crucial that a third voice enters the fray. A voice that is not opposed to emerging technologies or human enhancement but that is concerned about the social, economic and political issues of these technologies, and that certainly does not want to leave our future in the hands of corporations that value profit over social responsibility or that technological progress is stopped by conservatives who dream of a permanent status quo!

Therefore, there must be new initiatives in existing political organizations and new organizations must be created to contribute to a renewal of ideas and the moderation of public debate around these issues in a serious but compellingly futurist manner. Both in Quebec and at an international level, we need new levels of awareness and commitment - in short, a new social movement - to ensure that human enhancement technologies with support rather than subvert our hard-fought commitments to our essential values - liberty, equality and solidarity. This technoprogressive movement is Democratic Transhumanism and it is my hope that Quebecers will be at its vanguard."

> It's pretty personal but I think spending time discovering the type of human being I am, improve my relationships with others and live a fulfilling life in which I accomplish myself, that's already a huge undertaking!

I agree but emerging technologies could be tools in this undertaking. Karl Marx "argued that the advance of technology laid the groundwork not only for the creation of a new society, with different property relations, but also for the emergence of new human beings reconnected to nature and themselves." How? A leisure society built on the near-total computerization and robotization of work (technological progress) AND a basic income guarantee for all citizens (social progress) would give us all the time in the world to discover the type of human beings we are, improve our relationships with others and live fulfilling lives in which we accomplish ourselves. But we are not there yet. Rather than turning on, tuning in and dropping out, why not work harder to make the end of work come sooner?

> I do not reject all technologies in their totality without thinking, I question, I doubt, that's all. Like you, Justice, I wouldn't have taken the red pill without thinking.


Steve wrote back: Hello, Justice. Your arguments are very good and very accurate and I no longer think we have a problem. [...]

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Is the trip really over?

From Think for Yourself, Question Authority! by Arno Ruthofer (1997):

The techno-euphoria that prevails in the cyberdelic counterculture seems to be slowly wearing off. More and more cyberians are realizing that the PC, the Internet, and other new technologies did not really bring the social, political, and personal changes they thought they would. Even R. U. Sirius, who used to be an euphoric spokesman of cyberculture, has finally realized that the visions of the cyber-society and the "liftoff from biology and gravity" have blinded us to the real problems on this planet. As Sirius put it:

[A]nybody who doesn't believe that we're trapped hasn't taken a good look around. We're trapped in a sort of mutating multinational corporate oligarchy that's not about to go away. We're trapped by the limitations of our species. We're trapped in time. At the same time identity, politics, and ethics have long turned liquid. [...]Cyberculture (a meme that I'm at least partly responsible for generating, incidentally) has emerged as a gleeful apologist for this kill-the-poor trajectory of the Republican revolution. You find it all over Wired [an online magazine] - this mix of chaos theory and biological modeling that is somehow interpreted as scientific proof of the need to devolve and decentralize the social welfare state while also deregulating and empowering the powerful, autocratic, multinational corporations. You've basically got the breakdown of nation states into global economies simultaneously with the atomization of individuals or their balkanization into disconnected sub-groups, because digital technology conflates space while decentralizing communication and attention. The result is a clear playing field for a mutating corporate oligarchy, which is what we have. I mean, people think it's really liberating because the old industrial ruling class has been liquefied and it's possible for young players to amass extraordinary instant dynasties. But it's savage and inhuman. Maybe the wired elite think that's hip. But then don't go around crying about crime in the streets or pretending to be concerned with ethics (quoted in Kroker 1997: 20-23).

For R. U. Sirius, the techno-euphoria is gone. This trip is over. Cyberpunk is absorbed into the mainstream. The real problems of our material world are still here. To deny these problems would be futile (cf. ibid.). It seems that we are back to normal again. This means we will have to deal with the real problems, discuss politics and ethics again. Designer realities are fun but we have to be aware of the fact that they are just an escape from the real world. In our real world freedom means hard work. Cyberspace, like psychedelics, seems to be a dead end. It is just not enough to philosophize about chaos theory, quantum physics and "downloading" and wait until someday, perhaps, the world will adjust itself to one's cosmology.

It seems that Timothy Leary's concept of the cyber-society - a postpolitical, non-hierarchical society made possible by cybernetic technology, in which the computer-literate, super-intelligent, open-minded, change-oriented, self-reliant, irreverent free-thinker is the norm and the person who is not internetted and does not think for him-/herself and questions authority is the "problem person" (cf. PE 5) - will always remain an utopian dream because it is based on two problematic assumptions:

First of all, Leary suggested that the feedback, decentralization, and connectedness created by communication-networking-technologies has only positive effects, that is, it creates individual freedom and weakens the power of the government. Leary forgot to take into consideration that decentralization is a double edged sword. It slowly dissolves old authoritarian hierarchical political structures (or so it is claimed) while at the same time creating a "playing field for a mutating corporate oligarchy." Not only the "good guys" (the cyberpunks) are using the electronic media; the "bad guys" (the multinational corporations, politicians, etc) are using them as well, and they very well know how to manipulate people. The multinational corporations, for example, very well know how to program people to believe that you can only be free if you have the newest technology. Freedom means having the fastest computer with modem, a satellite dish on your roof, a cellular phone, a video recorder, etc. And people really believe that they can buy freedom. Even Leary himself tried to convince us that "freedom in any country is measured perfectly by the percentage of Personal Computers in the hands of individuals"(CC 45).

Like Leary, the multinational corporations promise us a cybernetic paradise, a world in which all limits are transcended. The AT&T "You Will" campaign , for example, is such a promise. In Escape Velocity, Mark Dery describes the AT&T "You Will" campaign as follows:

In AT&T's corporate brand TV spots, all is sweetness and light. "Have you ever opened doors with the sound of your voice?" asks a familiar voice, over a countrified jingle that conjures the wide, open territories of the electronic frontier. "You will." A young woman steps out of an elevator, her arms full, and her apartment doors unlocks at her command. [...]Brought to you by the mother of all communication companies, AT&T's future is, in the best tradition of technological Utopias, a luminous place, not far off. [...] The golden glow that suffuses the spacious interiors in the spots - light made gauzy with the aid of fog machines - sentimentalizes corporate dreams of electronic interconnectedness by premisting the viewer's eyes. Moreover, it lends AT&T's vision of things to come an almost metaphysical air, drawing on the long-standing equation of the luminous and the numinous - an equation that is at least as old as the seventeenth-century poet Henry Vaughn's evocation of the ultimate virtual reality, the afterlife ("They are all gone into the world of light!") and as recent as the radiant aliens in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Dery 1996: 11).

Oddly enough, the laptop computers, cellular phones, videophones, etc which multinational corporations like AT&T have brought us seem not to have lightened our burden as workers because "in a world where 'we are all connected' [...] the office intrudes on our vacations, the workday stretches into our evenings: Video screens, phones, and laptop jacks convert every seat in the Boeing 777 into an airborne office; the pagers and cellular phones provided by one resort in Vail, Colorado, turn downtime on the ski lifts into worktime"(ibid. 12). It is frightening how easily our privacy can be invaded in the digital age.

Nonetheless, many people in the Western World believe that television, cellular phones, computers, the Internet, etc make them more and more independent from authorities, and some people still hope that soon "superintelligent" machines will do all the work for them so they just have to lean back and "enjoy the show." It is not surprising that the governments of the Western world do not lift a finger to change this delusive belief. Technotopian stories about the future do not weaken their power, quite to the contrary. Computers, the Internet, and all the other new technologies are "opium for the people;" technology keeps people happy and entertained. Why rise up against the government if you have TV (200 channels or more), Internet, Game Boys, cyber sex, etc?

The second problematic assumption that Leary's concept of the cyber-society is based on is that the increase of intelligence is a logical consequence of the enormous acceleration of technological development we are witnessing at present. Leary calls this the "law of acceleration:" The faster the technology, the faster the speed of thought (cf. CC inside cover-page). In "Our Brain"(1991), for example, Leary states that "[i]n just the last ten years, our species has multiplied the ability to use our brains by a thousandfold"(CC 35) and "[t]he next uncontrollable fifteen years (1995-2010) will [even] accelerate this dizzy explosion of brain power"(CC 82).

According to Leary, our brains are quickly learning to adapt to the speed of computers:

Speed is addictive, and evolutionary.

Individuals who work intimately with computational machinery find they grow quickly accustomed to rapid interactive responses, exulting in the quick succession of events in the culminative composition of growth of work, in the embodiment of the structure of one's mind in the machine. Being forced to use a slower computer after addiction to rapid response speed is established is mentally excruciating in the extreme. It seems that there is no return from an accelerated frame of mind (DD 39).

The invincible optimist Leary predicted that by 2008 the super-bright, creative, imaginative, self-reliant computer adept will be the norm in our Information Society and the person who does not want to be internetted and connected will be the "problem person"(cf. CC 83f.).

The question arises: Do computers, the Internet, and other new technologies really make people more creative and intelligent? Do computers really teach us to think faster? Can our brains keep up with the speed of the electronic media? Cultural critics Arthur and Marilouise Kroker, for example, do not share Leary's optimistic belief that faster technologies teach us to think faster and that by 2008 the super-bright, self-reliant computer adept will be the norm in our cybernetic society. The Krokers are pessimistic about the future of our digital culture. They argue that we are on "a fast trip to digital delirium" because "we have not escaped and will never overcome the fatal destiny of the law of reversal" (which is exactly the opposite of Leary's "law of acceleration"):

[T]he faster the tech, the slower the speed of thought... the more accelerated the culture, the slower the rate of social change... the quicker the digital composition, the slower the political reflection... the more apparent the external speed, the more real the internal slowness... delirious speed and anxious slowness...a split reality... accelerating digital effects are neutralized by deaccelerating special human effects... digital reality spins out of control, human reality slow-burns back to earth... speed bodies and slow vision... speed flesh and slow bones... speed web and slow riot... the slow mirror of speed [italics mine](Kroker 1997: x)

In contrast to Leary who suggested that "our bored brains love 'overload'"(CC 15), the Krokers argue that information overload (caused by computers, the electronic media, etc) numbs our brains so we cannot think clearly any more. The brain's self-protective reaction to information overload is that it "shuts down." As the Krokers put it in Digital Delirium: [T]he tyranny of information overload produce[s] a numbed culture that shuts down for self-protection"(Kroker 1997: xiii). The Krokers' law of reversal suggests that we are caught in some kind of vicious circle. We invent faster technologies to be able to meet the demands of our accelerating culture (our culture demands that we are able to think faster and faster, do work faster and faster, etc). These faster technologies which help us to do things faster, however, produce an even more accelerated culture. This means that we have to keep inventing faster technologies. The problem is that the human brain cannot cope with the growing speed of our culture. The result is: "Speed images, but slow eyes. [...] Speed media, but slow communication. Speed talk, but no thought"(ibid. ix).

Digital Delirium (published 1997) is a counter-blast to the blast of techno-utopianism that the 90s began with. The Krokers intention is to bring techno-utopians like Leary and McKenna back down to the ground from their "digital high." They want to make people aware that the computer can be a dangerous and highly addictive drug because it gives you the feeling that you are omnipotent and know everything when, in fact, you know nothing. As long as you are "high" (numbed by the dizzying speed and information overload produced by computers) all problems seem to be solved (because the real problems are "screened out" so you are not aware of them). That is why it is hard to resist the seduction of computers. Leary himself admitted that "computers are more addictive than heroin" (quoted in Bukatman 1993: 139). But you cannot go on screening out problems forever. Like Mark Dery and Donna Haraway, the Krokers want to bring technoutopians like Leary to their senses and alert them to the real problems. The longer the high, the bitterer the come-down. If we do not start to fight our computer addiction now it might be too late because "speed kills."

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

The Clonewatch International Manifesto ;)


The CloneWatch Manifesto is to fight for the preservation of our world's natural laws. We are an all-volunteer organization committed to investigating corporations and/or individuals involved with hazardous and reckless scientific experimentation and illegal cloning.

We recognize that scientific advancement has brought us to a level where cloning is possible. We believe that it is neither right nor moral to put this knowledge into practice.

CloneWatch does not solicit or accept funding from governments, corporations or political parties. We neither seek nor accept donations that could compromise our independence, aims, objectives or integrity.

CloneWatch relies on the voluntary action of concerned supporters like you.

We are not for profit. We are for the people. We are for future of the planet.

Sunday, July 31, 2005

"Live Long and Prosper: A Program of Technoprogressive Social Democracy" by Dale Carrico

Reposted from amor mundi

For technoprogressives, there is no question that even radical and disruptive technological developments can be empowering and emancipatory when they are funded and regulated by legitimate democratic authorities and accountable processes to ensure that their costs, risks, and benefits are all fairly distributed among all the actual stakeholders to these developments. But it is no less true for technoprogressives that such developments threaten catastrophes to individual health, safety, and to the environment as a whole, as well as to exacerbate injustice and facilitate exploitation whenever they do not reflect these democratic values and processes.

The most legitimate concern of many bioconservatives (and of those who tend to sympathize with their arguments for now) is that the rich and powerful will enjoy medical enhancement and longevity long before the rest of us do, or that powerful elites will control digital surveillance technologies or unprecedented nanotechnological capacities that will consolidate their power in unimaginable ways. The NBIC convergence of nanoscale technologies, biomedical technologies, information technologies, and cognitive/neuroceutical technologies promises unprecedented human emancipation but threatens no less than the literal rewriting of social injustice as a form of dreadful speciation.

To the extent that bioconservatives value "natural" -- that is to say nothing but customary -- distributions of power and authority over values like consent, equality, health, and an end to needless meaningless suffering, they find themselves on considerably shakier ground than this. And so, it seems to me that technoprogressives should address such legitimate and urgent concerns about technoconstituted social injustice as our own focus. This would force the biconservatives to distinguish themselves from us by foregrounding instead the far less appealing social conservatism, elitism, and embarrassing anti-democratic, anti-scientific biases that constitute the actual core of their temperament and political stand.

Unfortunately, most committed technocentric critics and advocates are either technophobes who will already incline to the bioconservative perspective or technophiles who are often unpardonably complacent about issues of social justice. Far too often privileged techno-utopians and enthusiasts will trivialize questions of social justice altogether as if they were merely the complaints of "envious" people that "the rich" will get all the good toys first, rather than the expression of the truism that technological inequality tends to correspond to unacceptable political inequality. Too often technophiliac (non-)responses to social concerns veer dangerously close to twirling a bright shiny object in front of the eyes of the relatively less prosthetically-empowered as if to distract them from the conspicuous consequent threat of their relative political powerlessness. "Why, in techno-utopia" -- kissing cousin to libertopia, I'm afraid -- "even the poorest of the poor live like the princeliest of the princes in olden tymes," they froth. "Look'ee at this here big screen tee-vee! this air-conditioned shag-carpeted domicile! this candy-dish chock-full of viagra capsules!"

The proper technoprogressive response to concerns about unequal distributions of developmental capacities, then, is to recognize explicitly that this is foremost a worry about the developmental threat of pernicious antidemocratic distributions of power, and to foreground that this is an eminently sensible worry based on overabundant historical experience.

Further, I propose the following initial, provisional programmatic redress of social injustice as an indispensable part of a properly technoprogressive advocacy of radical, disruptive technological developments (comparably technoprogressive alternative recommendations are, of course, welcome):

First: Technoprogressives demand a basic income guarantee as an indispensable complement to any general championing of disruptive technological development. This effectively eliminates poverty from social life and sustains every citizen as a stakeholder with enough freedom to contract the terms of their participation in society as they see fit. This income (together with a life-long stakeholder grant in education and retraining) would foreground the value of citizen participation in a properly technoprogressive democratic civilization, empowering citizens to contribute free creative content, to participate in new collaborative forms of media oversight and policy deliberation, in addition to voting on policy-measures and representatives for public office.

Let me add two quick side notes here:

ONE. Don't forget that the media has always been subsidized. Even in relatively "minarchist" Founding-Era America the architects of the republic recognized the indispensability of media to working continental-scaled democracy: hence, the establishment of a postal service and roadways, and later the subsidization and regulation of every media form as it emerged on the scene right up to the recent creation and support of the internet.

A basic income guarantee can be defended as a comparable subsidization of peer-to-peer networks and media (including collaborative forms of in-depth security and surveillance/sousveillance) on this view, quite apart from its many other justifications.

TWO. Also, remember that Marshall Brain has called for the provision of a basic income guarantee to ameliorate pernicious income consolidation facilitated by automation in the present day. This, then, is not some pie-in-the-sky speculation about a distant possibly-fanciful post-scarcity nano-topia, but a very progressive, forceful, conspicuously relevant contribution technoprogressive critics and advocates can focus on right now to make a difference today that will illuminate future promises and enlist enthusiasm about a better future.

Second: Technoprogressives demand universal basic health care provision as well as a stakeholder grant in enhancement medicine as an indispensable complement to any general championing of research, development, and the support of consensual practices of genetic, prosthetic, and cognitive medicine. This effectively eliminates the greatest threat to the lives of the relatively less powerful (unecessary suffering, the burdens of untreated illness) and enlists every citizen as a participant in a civilization-wide peer-to-peer experiment in better-than-well health-care provision and rejuvination medicine. This stakeholder grant in healthcare and enhancement would foreground the value of morphological freedom (for more on this term, look here and here) in our democratic civilization, empowering citizens to enage in proliferating projects of self-creation, as peers celebrating a prostheticized explosion of life-style and bodily and cognitive diversity.

For democrats and technoprogressives social justice cannot tolerate unequal distributions of authority beyond a certain point (we are, I fear, well past that point at present in the precarious North Atlantic democracies) -- but it is just as true that our sense of justice demands the preservation and celebration of inequality in its forms as distinction and diversity.

Part of the danger of framing worries about technodevelopmental injustice in terms of conflicts of "rich" against "poor" is that this so impoverishes the conceptual resources available to us as we would address these difficulties. What is wanted is a prosperity that renders this distinction altogether irrelevant.

There need be nothing in the least dangerous or pernicious, for example, about some especially lucky or talented or pretty people accumulating absurd fortunes so long as this doesn't encourage authoritarian concentrations of power in consequence and so long as those who lack such fortunes do not thereby lose their power to meaningfully consent to the terms in which they live their lives or lose their capacity to contribute as peers in the projects of democratic civilization.

The key is the strongest possible support of a civilization that values equality, diversity and the discretionary at once -- which will include as one of its least interesting entailments the existence of some people who are vastly rich, just as it would still surely entail the existence of some whose embrace of lifestyles of voluntary simplicity might seem superficially similar to the lives of some mildly impoverished people in the world today.

Be that as it may, there is also a case to be made for encouraging particularly enthusiastic, reckless, adventurous people, whether situated by wealth or by temperament, to take up new prosthetic and medical practices before the rest of us do, who can function thereby as a comparatively safely sequestered minoritized advance test-population working out conspicuous technological bugs before they manage to ruinously disseminate among majorities.

It may be true, I suppose (but I do not concede the necessity or even likelihood of this), that developmental regulation to facilitate these democratic ends might slow the pace of development with the consequence that some of the richest most powerful people today might wait longer to gain benefits they might otherwise enjoy sooner. But it is hard for me to understand why their frustration is inherently more relevant than that of the incomparably many more who would be no less frustrated in their stead, and who would certainly gain these benefits themselves more quickly in consequence of a democratization of developmental risks, costs, and benefits.

Cheap computers and software for world citizens

BBC: a trial project using handheld Pocket PCs could help reduce the costs of education in poor communities.
Since the Kenyan government introduced free primary school education two years ago, the resulting influx of kids has meant that resources are spread as thinly as ever.
Fifty-four 11-year-old students are willing guinea pigs in an extraordinary experiment aimed at using technology to deliver education across the continent.
In the Eduvision pilot project, textbooks are out, customised Pocket PCs, referred to as e-slates, are very much in. They are wi-fi enabled and run on licence-free open source software to keep costs down.
From the EduVision website: EduVision, a project funded by the BioVision Foundation, seeks to assist countries in improving their education systems by providing appropriate information technology tools for the classroom. To lower the overall cost of primary and secondary education, EduVision aims to replace physical textbooks, notebooks and stationary items with a single integrated system (EELS) which will follow each student throughout the course of their education.
This is a good example of using information technology to improve education worldwide and in particular in the developing world. Another initiative that could have been deployed to the developing world to meet educational and other needs was the late lamented Simputer (radical simplicity for universal access). From the Simputer website: The key to bridging the digital divide is to have shared devices that permit truly simple and natural user interfaces based on sight, touch and audio. The last Simputer status update (March 2004) announces the commercial launch of the Amida Simputer in Bangalore (see also this article on the Indiatimes website).
Another interesting development aimed at bringing cheap computers to the masses is the recent initiative of the Brazilian government described by the New York Times and the Emergic blog. Under the program, which is expected to offer tax incentives for computer makers to cut prices and a generous payment plan for consumers, the government hopes to offer desktops for around 1,400 reais ($509) or less. The machines will be comparable to those costing almost twice that outside the program. The program is linked to President Lula's initiative to stimulate (and enforce) the use of open source software in Brazil "[Lula] has turned Brazil into a tropical outpost of the free software movement (Emergic)".